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Nutcracker: Alastair Macaulay, Senior Dance Critic for the <i>New York Times</i>

critic Alastair Macaulay's recent review ofhas stirred up quite a controversy due to a line saying one dancer "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many".
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"To me, criticism is about reconciling heart and head."
Alastair Macaulay, from an interview in Ballet Magazine 2010

On November 28th The New York Times released Alastair Macaulay's review of New York City Ballet's performance of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. This piece has stirred up quite a controversy due to Mr. Macaulay's comment:

"Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm."

While Macaulay clearly knows his history, taking 13 paragraphs to extol the magnificence of Balanchine's vision and Tchaikovsky's musical genius, this Perez Hilton-esque comment degrades not only the work of the dancers, but the art of cultural criticism. Commentary of this nature does nothing to educate, inspire, or bring about innovation in the field. Additionally, it's the responsibility of not only the critic but also the media outlet and its audience to maintain certain standards. Bloggers have condemned Macaulay for his comment; however, there is a bigger issue at hand.

I spoke with Eva Yaa Asantewaa, who writes for Dance Magazine and the InfiniteBody arts blog. She had this to say:

"Since Times arts editors apparently condone or encourage snarky writing in its dance reviews--and since Times reviews, regrettably, are crucial to the careers of artists and survival of arts institutions--we will have to push on and create viable, respected alternatives. Most of all, we will have to teach young performers to respect their bodies, care for their health, and be happy in their dancing."

It does seem that the New York Times knew what they were doing when they hired Macaulay three years ago. From a recent interview in Ballet Magazine, Macaulay shared the following regarding his early career:

"Often I found myself highly controversial. One ballet company struck me off its press list; another threatened to; one critic got libel lawyers to threaten a libel action against me (which terrified me but which my editors loved)."

So what is to be made of this comment? Ringer has discussed in both Dance Spirit and Dance Magazine that she struggles with an eating disorder. She is also a mother of a young child and a role model to many. Therefore the implication of such a malicious comment, from an internationally known dance historian writing for a globally recognized newspaper, is nothing less than irresponsible.

Ms. Yaa Asantewaa also commented:

"I would hope that a dance critic would be sensitive to [the] choice of words. As writers on dance, we're constantly making delicate choices about the best language to express what we see and feel and to render a persuasive assessment of the work at hand. I do not know if Macaulay is aware of Ringer's history, but even if he is not, his slam at her size was a slapdash choice and an abusive one."

This piece is drawing attention mostly for the comment about Ringer, but let us not forget that men are equally susceptible to body image issues, and this concern also pertains to male dancers. Macaulay's words directed toward Jared Angle are equally scathing.

There are some who question whether this Sugar Plum line was directed toward the dancers' waistlines or toward their energy level on stage. If nothing else, Macaulay has left many people upset and unclear regarding his meaning. So we will conclude with his own words, and let us continue this conversation together. If you recognise the significance of this persisting issue, please answer the following in the comment section below:

1. Do you read the Times dance reviews? Has this changed over time?

2. Do you feel reviews of this nature are of use to venues, arts organizations, audience members, aspiring young dancers, and artists?

"My job is to be a professional aesthete with serious criteria; and I share my perceptions and my values with the reader as best I can." - Alastair Macaulay

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